Higher education has made the headlines of the New York Times, page one. Of course, it has nothing to do with education, but with sex and sports and money—a kind of Trinity that has come to embody what truly drives education in the United States. Sports have long been associated with fitness, and fitness has a role to play in mental acuity. Games like those of the ancient Olympiad, however, were not part of the symposium as much as they were a deterrent to warfare. Representatives from towns all over Greece could see where the best martial skills resided (the games were modeled after behaviors of utility on the battlefield) and those who made the best showing were likely not wise to quarrel against. I suspect some vigorous sex followed the heroes of the sports field after the games. They were Greeks, after all, and laurel leaves are fine and good, but not so tangible as a reward.
I’m not a sports fan. I know very little about sports figures and even less about statistics. It was, however, impossible to grow up in Pennsylvania and not know the name of Joe Paterno. He made the news so often that no matter which college you attended he felt like your coach. (I am guessing here.) Even as an undergrad, asked to name one faculty member at Penn State, I would have fumbled. I could tell you the head coach of their football program, however, without having ever watched a game. As a society we decide by our accolades where our values will reside. There can be no question that sports prowess is highly regarded. Those who supposedly teach guys to do it better are like gods. When was the last time academic achievement at a university made front page of the New York Times?
Back in my ill-fated days at Nashotah House, believe it or not, I was on the seminary football team. Our season was one game long; we played the rival, “liberal,” and now disbanded, seminary, Seabury-Western. I was recruited because our student body was so small and I was relatively fit for a faculty member. If I am to be honest, a strange transformation took me over on the field. Those who don’t know me will have to take my word for it that I am a pacifist, a gentle and very shy person. Although the game was flag football, I earned more respect with the one flying tackle I perpetrated than I ever did by my teaching acumen. Where your treasure lies, there will be your heart also. So Paterno has been sacked. Join the club. If there were any cosmic justice we’d next see his god-like face at Occupy Wall Street. Instead, I imagine his consultant and endorsement fees will more than make up for a paltry lost job in higher education. Go Nitanny Loins!